Empower teams with measurable goals

Startups can take a long time to find their feet. The best ideas can be challenging to build. And, even with a product ready to sell, you still need to find the best way to bring your product to market. Early startup recruits often fail. When growth takes off, a startup could be on its fifth salesperson, fourth marketing manager, third customer success manager, and second product manager.

While some recruits fail because they cannot deliver results, many fail because of unclear goals. This confusion is why it’s so important for founders to define clear, measurable, and achievable objectives for their teams.

Ideally, you should outline these before you hire (we hire to solve specific problems, after all) so that you can communicate them during the recruiting process. When you know what success looks like, it’s easier to get there.

Set measurable goals

A simple and measurable target leaves no ambiguity. So, startup leaders should set goals for the team to measure and move. Growth teams, for example, have two goals: find and close opportunities. So, their most important KPIs are:

Someone needs to be accountable for each of these goals in every business. Marketing or outbound sales typically find leads while (inbound) sales close them. Sales own both when salespeople are responsible for finding and closing their opportunities. Marketing holds both for self-service/bottom-up growth models where customers typically sign up without talking to a salesperson.

While lead attraction and revenue growth are the KPIs that matter most, mature teams measure more than these two numbers. Conversion rates between sales stages, for example. Teams might also evaluate salesperson performance based on how customer outcomes. For example, sales leaders expect a low percentage of new customers to churn within the first year, and if you track this by salesperson, you can evaluate the quality of each deal. When churn is high for a particular salesperson, this could indicate they prioritise leads poorly and oversell the product.

All teams within a startup should have some KPIs:

One benefit of measurable goals is that they are easy to incentivise. Pay salespeople commissions based on their revenue, and pay bonuses to other team members based on their respective KPIs.

Ensure your team can move the numbers

To achieve great results, people need control over what they do and be motivated by tangible business outcomes. Effective delegation requires a balance of these two forces, a topic I’ve written more about already.

Only hold people accountable for delivering outcomes that they can control:

When you set the goals for a role, make sure your expectations are reasonable, given the amount of control a person has over what they do and how they do it. Hold employees and teams with absolute autonomy to a high standard, with broad and ambitious expected outcomes. Groups and individuals with very little autonomy should have appropriately scoped KPIs.

What happens when we fail?

It’s essential to reflect on your progress relative to your goals frequently. If a team or individual repeatedly fails to deliver, you have a few options:

Founders willing to make tough resourcing decisions quickly are more likely to succeed than those who dither. This is the uncomfortable reality of any leadership role.

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